"I got it good and that ain't bad."
These reversed lyrics to an old song were what came to mind as I reflected on Vayechi. In the past I've thought about the blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh, or about Joseph's "hall I take the place of Gd?"; all interesting subjects for pondering in Vayechi. But this time, what struck me was this: While it makes sense that Joseph and family all took Yaakov/Israel back to Canaan to be buried, why, then, did they all return to Egypt? Was the famine still raging? There's no apparent sign of that among the Canaanites. Joseph has surely amassed enough wealth that he could have asked Pharaoh for leave to return home with his brothers and remain there.
Had Gd given Joseph a sign that he was to remain in Egypt? Was Joseph simply too enamored of the good life to go back again to being a shepherd? Were the brothers similarly enticed by the good life they found in Egypt?
So they did the right thing, and honored their father's wish, and took him to be buried with his ancestors near Mamre. Then they returned home to tend the good land near Goshen which had been assigned to them by Pharaoh. (Who tended the land while the family made its sojourn, I wonder.)
Of course, the story would not have worked out the same had not Joseph and company stayed in Egypt. But that is one of those very teleological arguments again. It's too convenient. There has to be a good reason why the children of Yaakov remained in Egypt, eventually to become slaves to Pharaoh.
The Torah would have us believe that Joseph was prescient about things to come, for, at the end of Vayechi, he tells his family and descendants that Gd will take notice on them and return them to the land Gd promised to them.
Is this the rationale? Is it because Joseph believed that it was up to Gd, and not Joseph, to restore his family to Canaan? More "Shall I take the place of Gd?" from Joseph? Gd had sent Joseph and his family to Egypt for some purpose, just as Gd had Joseph sold into Egyptian slavery for a purpose. Who is Joseph, then, to take things into his own hands?
But the idea of sitting around patiently waiting for Gd to act is, in this post-Shoah age, not a comfortable one.
My task, this Shabbat, is to try to reconcile these seemingly different revelatory lessons from Gd. If you come up with any answers, I could use the help.
©1999 by Adrian A. Durlester
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